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Sewn in the Sweatshops of Marx: Beuys, Warhol, Klein, Duchamp
     

Sewn in the Sweatshops of Marx: Beuys, Warhol, Klein, Duchamp

by Thierry de Duve, Rosalind E. Krauss (Translator)
 

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Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, and Marcel Duchamp form an unlikely quartet, but they each played a singular role in shaping a new avant-garde for the 1960s and beyond. Each of them staged brash, even shocking, events and produced works that challenged the way the mainstream art world operated and thought about itself.

 

Distinguished philosopher

Overview

Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, and Marcel Duchamp form an unlikely quartet, but they each played a singular role in shaping a new avant-garde for the 1960s and beyond. Each of them staged brash, even shocking, events and produced works that challenged the way the mainstream art world operated and thought about itself.

 

Distinguished philosopher Thierry de Duve binds these artists through another connection: the mapping of the aesthetic field onto political economy. Karl Marx provides the red thread tying together these four beautifully written essays in which de Duve treats each artist as a distinct, characteristic figure in that mapping. He sees in Beuys, who imagined a new economic system where creativity, not money, was the true capital, the incarnation of the last of the proletarians; he carries forward Warhol’s desire to be a machine of mass production and draws the consequences for aesthetic theory; he calls Klein, who staked a claim on pictorial space as if it were a commodity, “The dead dealer”; and he reads Duchamp as the witty financier who holds the secret of artistic exchange value. Throughout, de Duve expresses his view that the mapping of the aesthetic field onto political economy is a phenomenon that should be seen as central to modernity in art. Even more, de Duve shows that Marx—though perhaps no longer the “Marxist” Marx of yore—can still help us resist the current disenchantment with modernity’s many unmet promises.

 

An intriguing look at these four influential artists, Sewn in the Sweatshops of Marx is an absorbing investigation into the many intertwined relationships between the economic and artistic realms.

Editorial Reviews

Darby English

“Thierry de Duve’s is a crucial and utterly distinct voice in the field of modern art. Delightfully original and engaging, Sewn in the Sweatshops of Marx combines the author’s inimitably bold thinking with an unusual sensitivity to the ways that particular works articulate the convergence of aesthetics and economics. Its gorgeously constructed essays tell this art’s stories so well, they often read like the best biographical fiction.”

Daniel Herwitz

“That Beuys, Warhol, Klein, and Duchamp were variously engaged in rewriting the terms of production, circulation, and consumption of art, and did so by creating new work which challenged the received nature of the artwork is an oft-mentioned, oft-theorized fact. No one has gone so far in thinking through the dramatic intentions and achievements of these artists as de Duve, who in this free radical of a book, maps categories of political economy found in the pages of Marx onto their projects. De Duve’s recruitment of Marx is of such originality as to return the reader to Marx’s own texts, whose astonishing insights into production, mechanization, price, money, exchange value, the creativity of labor, and the innovation of markets have been neglected in recent times but demand reawakening. Written with verve, intricacy, and narrative fluency, this book probes and proves that these are the parameters in which the avant-gardes transact, and through which they must be brought to speech.”

University of Chicago Darby English
“Thierry de Duve’s is a crucial and utterly distinct voice in the field of modern art. Delightfully original and engaging, Sewn in the Sweatshops of Marx combines the author’s inimitably bold thinking with an unusual sensitivity to the ways that particular works articulate the convergence of aesthetics and economics. Its gorgeously constructed essays tell this art’s stories so well, they often read like the best biographical fiction.”
University of Michigan Daniel Herwitz
“That Beuys, Warhol, Klein, and Duchamp were variously engaged in rewriting the terms of production, circulation, and consumption of art, and did so by creating new work which challenged the received nature of the artwork is an oft-mentioned, oft-theorized fact. No one has gone so far in thinking through the dramatic intentions and achievements of these artists as de Duve, who in this free radical of a book, maps categories of political economy found in the pages of Marx onto their projects. De Duve’s recruitment of Marx is of such originality as to return the reader to Marx’s own texts, whose astonishing insights into production, mechanization, price, money, exchange value, the creativity of labor, and the innovation of markets have been neglected in recent times but demand reawakening. Written with verve, intricacy, and narrative fluency, this book probes and proves that these are the parameters in which the avant-gardes transact, and through which they must be brought to speech.”
Visual Studies
“The book is a success at creating a visual and textual cartography, as following the red thread proves that you can indeed get there (political economy) from here (modern art/aesthetics) and vice versa. Likewise, the author provides fresh new perspective where the four artists and Marx are concerned. While many critics and authors have attempted to view modern and postmodern art through a similar lens, none have achieved such an enthralling and vivid image.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226922379
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
10/15/2012
Pages:
96
Product dimensions:
7.70(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sewn in the Sweatshops of Marx

Beuys, Warhol, Klein, Duchamp


By Thierry de Duve, Rosalind E. Krauss

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2012 Thierry de Duve
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-92239-3



CHAPTER 1

Joseph Beuys, or The Last of the Proletarians


Overcome by an illness that took hold of him—like a statue—by the feet, Joseph Beuys died on January 21, 1986, after having installed in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples what should be seen as more than just his last exhibition: his testament. On the walls were seven gold-leafed monochromes, measuring the height of a man and asymmetrically arranged: four on the right-hand wall, one on the far wall, two on the wall at the left. In the room stood two vitrines, or rather, glass caskets—one displaced to a position near the left-hand wall, the other right in the middle. The first contained the pathetic implements of a transient or bum, these arranged in a vaguely anthropomorphic manner: a backpack serving as head; two bronze canes, one rolled in felt, doubling as arms; two rolls of fat and a roll of leather bound with twine standing for chest; and a slab of lard for legs. Alongside this dismembered body ran a bronze crutch to which were attached two large electrical clamps. There lay the artist as vagabond, as itinerant clown, encumbered with his meager supplies and limping down the road to exile: Oedipus at Colonnus.

In the central casket the portrait was more composed, tragic, majestic: Oedipus Rex. A cast head (the same that topped Strassenbahnhaltestelle at the 1982 Venice Biennale), its mouth agape as for a last death-cry, protruded from a greatcoat made of hare skin and lined in blue silk, at the feet of which was set the conch shell of a hoped-for rebirth. Two cymbals (used in the performance Titus/ Iphigenia) stood in at the place where in the other coffin the electric clamps with their supporting crutch were located. There lay the artist as tragic monarch, clad in the regalia of his office. The installation was, moreover, titled Palazzo Regale.

It is as vain to try to choose between the two images of himself the artist has wished to bequeath us as it would be mistaken to think that—as if retracing Beuys's career—they map a trajectory from the marginality of his beginnings to the triumph of his end. Like the faces of Janus, the two gisants are inseparable. And they are mutually indispensable for understanding what Beuys, throughout his whole life as an artist, wished to incarnate. The ruler and the tramp, the king and his fool, are but one of the bicephalic avatars of the artist. There are many others of them that also show, on the one hand, his indefatigable proselytism, his political combativeness, his pedagogical joy, his revolutionary or evolutionary optimism, his propensity to take the role of leader; and, on the other hand, his mystical archaism, his high sense of the pathetic in constant oscillation between farce and tragedy, his tendency to play the victim, his empathy for all the anomic and sacrificial figures of humanity. That of Christ—victim and redeemer—is at the crossing of a double series of identifications: chief and child, priest and scapegoat, shepherd and coyote, stag and hare, composer and thalidomide baby, social reformer and rebel, legislator and outlaw, statesman and prisoner, mediator and recluse, orator and deaf-mute, prophet and buffoon, professor and student, shaman and sham, utopianist of the future and embalmer of the past.

The ritual, obsessive, and quasi-exhaustive character of this list of the roles Beuys incarnated (lacking—and this is significant—only that of worker and prostitute) sets up echoes between his work and an already extensive litany of similar identifications, all of them allegorical of the condition of the artist within modernity, all of them leading directly—more than a century distant—to a mythical country peopled with all the romantic figures of the excluded as bearers of social truth. The name of this country—where flâneurs and dandies cross paths with peddlers and ragpickers; where rapins and carabins (would-be painters and medical students) thumb their noses at philistines; where the sins of the streetwalker are redeemed by the love of a young poet; where humanity is more humane in the brothel than in the church or palace; where the underworld is the true aristocracy, tuberculosis the pardon for syphilis, and talent the only riches—the name of this country that rings with all the cries of injustice and where the only one radicallydenied a visa is the bourgeois, that name is of course bohemia. It is a literary and imaginary country where, in a deformed image at once tragic and ideal, there was dreamed a humanity to replace the real humankind that peopled nineteenth-century Europe, and that industrial capitalism had pitilessly set against itself by dividing it into two new antagonistic classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The real name of bohemia, or, better, the name of its correlate in the actual world, is the Lumpenproletariat: a no-man's-land into which there fell a certain number of people incapable of finding a place within the new social divisions—expropriated farmers, out-of-work craftsmen, penniless aristocrats, country girls forced into prostitution. Dickens and Zola have described this dark fringe of industrialization, these shady interstices of urbanization. Like Baudelaire, Hugo, and many other novelists who, unlike them, did not profess naturalism, they drew their inspiration from this marginal society, but they also contributed to the fabrication of its image, its transposition into bohemia. The Lumpenproletariat functions all the more as the figure of a humanity of replacement in that it is a suffering humanity, in that only in its midst do the true human values of liberty, justice, and compassion survive, and in that it harbingers a promise of reconciliation. To the denizens of bohemia, Daumier, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, the Picasso of the Rose and Blue Periods, Rouault, and many others gave the faces of Don Quixote and Scapin, of laundresses and opera dancers, of dwarfs and nightclub singers, of circus artists and harlequins, the face of Mary Magdalene and that of Christ.

It is to this gallery of portraits that Beuys adds his own; it is this gallery that he recapitulates and brings full circle, and that he refers—perhaps unwittingly—to its conditions of emergence. All these portraits show the artist as bohemian, incarnating both the suffering humanity of the present and the just man of the future. All are portraits of the artist as a proletarian. The proletarian—as translating the bohemian as a social type that excludes the bourgeois but includes all the rest of humanity suffering from industrial capitalism—is not (or not necessarily) a member of the proletariat, that is, of the working class. Of this latter, the myth of bohemia offers a displaced and transposed image; it makes of a transnational reality an imaginary country, a quasi-nation, without real territorial frontiers, peopled with nomads and gypsies, as unreal as Alfred Jarry's Poland. The worker himself is rarely an inhabitant. The image of bohemia is ideological because it occults the reality that it is precisely charged with transposing: the massive proletarization of all the men and women who did not belong to the bourgeoisie. But the proletarian is a construction no less ideological—or mythical—of the same personage or social type that the bohemian expresses in the discourse of art and literature. Simply, it expresses it in the discourse of political economy, that of Marx, and even more specifically, of the young Marx.

What, then, is a proletarian for Marx? He is someone—no matter who—who finds himself to have everything to lose from the capitalist regime and everything to gain from its overthrow. Everything to lose, which is to say, his very humanity; and everything to gain, this same humanity. From the beginnings of industrial capitalism on, the proletarian is a figure torn from the horizon of its own future disappearance. He is literally the prototype of the universal man of the future, the anticipated type of the free and autonomous man, the emancipated man, the man who will have fully realized his human essence. The latter lies in the fact that man is a productive, social being. Against the ground of such an ontological substrate, the history of men is then nothing but the growth of productive forces and the progress of the social relations of production. For Marx conceives of man only as homo faber: labor—the faculty of producing—is what makes him man, and the consciousness he has of it is the import of his humanity. It transforms simple biological belonging to the human species into consciousness of participating in humankind and thus makes of all products of labor the privileged place of collective living. This is why the social relation is the essence of the individual as Gattungswesen (species-being), and why, in turn, all social relations are, in the last instance, reduced to relations of production. These will be free and autonomous only with the advent of the class- and stateless society, the communist society of which the proletariat is the avant-garde. In the meantime class struggle will be the order of the day, since the proletariat is exploited and alienated by the capitalist regime to which it is subjected, or, to put it another way, since the proletarian, dispossessed of his human essence by social relations of production that admit of nothing but the regime of private property, still needs to reappropriate it through struggle.

Even while already being, in anticipation, the type or prototype of man-in- general, the proletarian suffers from being exploited and alienated under the yoke of capitalism. Exploitation, which consists in the fact that surplus value is extracted from the unpaid labor time that the worker is constrained to offer to the owner of the means of production who employs him, is a damage he suffers from, an injury that a regrouping of the working forces through unionization could lessen or repair to a certain degree. But alienation is not a damage that can be made up for; it is a wrong that must be righted. It derives from the nature of the transaction between wageworker and employer meeting in the capitalist labor market, as if each were in possession of a ware in which the other is interested, in order to proceed to their exchange. The capitalist offers a salary and the worker his labor power. Now labor power—Arbeitskraft or Arbeitsvermögen—is, par excellence, that which defines or will define man as productive and social being, universal man in his essence. To have to sell his being as if it were a belonging is precisely what alienates homo faber and makes the worker into a proletarian. All languages distinguish the verbs to be and to have; these are verbs that do not translate into one another. Yet this is what the regime of private property pretends to do where it treats labor power as a commodity, "neither more nor less than sugar," Marx says. Therein rests the irreparable wrong that Marx calls alienation and that only the abolition of private ownership of the means of production will right.

To say that the proletarian suffers from a confusion between two verbs might seem rather light in view of what the working class has had to endure. Marx is much more concrete: it's his life that the worker alienates in selling his labor power to the capitalist; it's his muscular and cerebral force that he cedes to the capitalist; his blood that he spills for the capitalist; his skin that he wears out; his flesh that he exhausts. But this loss follows from exploitation; it does not involve any alienation, any alteration of man's essence. After all, the salary that his boss pays him allows the worker to reconstitute his lost energies; it is even exactly calculated for the reproduction of his labor power to make up for the expenditure. It is true that the worker wears himself out, but like everyone else, he is subjected to the irreversible march of time. It is also true that he gives away more time—labor time, that is, sole measure of the value of the commodities he produces—than he receives back in the form of wages, but this is because he is exploited. Once again, there is no case for calling that alienation. In fact, the Hegelian concept of alienation disappears from the writings of Marx after the Manuscripts of 1844. As for that of labor power, it does not appear before 1865, in Value, Price, and Profit. In the first edition of Wage-Labor and Capital, which dates from 1849, the wageworker does not sell his labor power to the capitalist, but simply his labor. It is only in the posthumous edition of 1891, amended by Engels (who accounts for it in the preface) in order to factor in the theoretical advances of Capital, that labor power takes the place of labor. This replacement is hard to uphold as such without the concept of alienation, lest one see the essential protagonist of class struggle, the proletarian, vanish like a ghost. Which is why the 1865 introduction of labor power rehabilitates under the table the concept of alienation, or at least rescues its ontological and dialectical sense, which remains crucial to Marx's thinking throughout. The 1849 conception, however, was more logical and more exact: the measure of exchange-value being labor, and the measure of labor being time, it is obviously time that the capitalist treats as commodity and "measures with the clock, as he measures sugar with a scale." But once the concept of alienation is abandoned, whether it be his labor or his labor time that the wageworker sells, no wrong is done him. He suffers the injury that is exploitation, but that is reparable. A better distributive justice could render exploitation tolerable, as has effectively occurred in the Western democracies. To justify the revolution and to write the abolition of capitalism onto the political agenda, it is necessary that the wageworker suffer a wrong that affects him in his human essence. If it is his labor power that he sells, if he is forced to part with the very thing that constitutes him in his humanity, then he suffers this wrong, then he is a proletarian and not simply a salaried worker, then this wrong must be righted for him to reappropriate his humanity. (The word appropriation betrays the embarrassment of a Marx caught in the trap of his own thought and forced to treat the essence of homo faber in theory in the same manner as the capitalist treats it in practice.)

Whether its messianic import was religious, political, or cultural in coloration, an enormous part of modern art has demanded that the wrong done to the proletarian be righted—in other words, that the labor power of man-in-general (the individual as Gattungswesen) be liberated and "disalienated." Virtually all modern art utopias have claimed to unleash the productive power man has in himself, yet of which he remains dispossessed to the extent, precisely, that he can merely have it, whereas it constitutes or will constitute him in his being, in his at once unique and universal belonging to humankind. It is to this demand and to this claim that modern or avant-garde artists (those at least who fully claimed those titles) have testified, by incarnating the proletarian. What is at stake here has little to do with certain artists' ideological alignments with proletarian positions—this existed but remained the exception—and is not in contradiction to the objective economic situation of artists, which is more akin to that of a small entrepreneur than to that of a wageworker. Subjectively speaking, the modern artist is the proletarian par excellence, because the regime of private property forces him to place on the art market things that will be treated as commodities but that, in order to have aesthetic value, must be productions and concretions of his labor power and, if possible, of nothing else. Even while the bourgeois conception of art "reifies" the work (via the market) on the one hand, on the other, it judges the work (via the aesthetic) for the way it manifests this faculty of producing value, a value that, in order to be authentic, must be unique to the artist and promise to be valid for all, and thus must have its seat in the very nature of the artist as individual human-in-general.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Sewn in the Sweatshops of Marx by Thierry de Duve, Rosalind E. Krauss. Copyright © 2012 Thierry de Duve. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Rosalind E. Krauss is University Professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University.

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